As I travelled along my journey, and paused, I came to realize that I was standing in front of three mountain paths.

The journey so far had been easy at times, and hard at others. Some of the paths that I had walked looked easy and became hard, and others I had walked had looked hard and become easy. The farther I went, however, the more awareness I had of my choice of paths.

At the beginning of my journey, my choices were not deliberate. I allowed myself to be led, or sometimes I blindly chose the path that took me to an unknown destination. Sometimes I would read the signposts indicating what lies ahead, and believe them, not knowing that the signposts were there for other people, and not me.

At this moment, however, I stopped, aware of the three paths before me. The path on my left climbed upward. It looked challenging, but I knew from past experience that the rewards at the end would be equal to my effort. I had chosen the upward path before, and at the end I found strength, and amazing views, and a newfound sense of purpose and meaning.

The path in front of me continued straight ahead, bending around the curve of the hill to an unknown destination. It was a familiar path, a maintaining path, and one that I knew that I could safely take if I thought that the challenge of the upward path was too great for me at this moment. Again, from my experience, knowing that my overestimation of my abilities has caused me to fail in the past, the middle way could be not only the choice of safety, but of preservation.

The path to the right…that one leads downward. It looks to be the easiest of the three, but I know that the rock and scree and scrabble could make it hard to climb again. This is the path that I had blindly taken too many times before, the descent into unknown and has the potential to wander aimlessly in a dark place, below the sun.

This time, however, I have a choice to make, and I am aware of that choice. The journey so far had not been easy, but it had been my journey, and one that I cannot start over, no matter how much I want to. It is this point right here that I have the ability to impact.

How aware are we of the choices we make in our lives? How does it happen that we take the time to pause, and consider, before moving forward? The metaphorical decision above is one that we consistently make, even if we don’t know it. I’ve written before about Posttraumatic Growth, the idea that we can survive, and even thrive, after experiencing a challenging life event. Consider me, or yourself, at that decision point described above. We’re not just pausing, we’re looking up from the ground. We’re shaking our head to clear the cobwebs after the hit, or the blast. We’re wiping the sweat from our eyes, taking heavy, ragged breaths, looking around to make sure everyone’s all right. Or we’re recovering from the shock of what we’ve just seen, breath caught in our throat, heart rate increasing. Now what? And then now what, when we think back on that moment, after waking from a nightmare or reacting to something that reminds us of that?

These choices in our lives are not two-dimensional, not linear. They are 3D, 360 degree choices. We are moving forward on this path, unable to start over or turn around. We are only moving forward, and making the choices in front of us: growth, maintenance, or decline. I was reminded of this after reading a post from veteran David Pineda, titled, Hard Work & Positivity…The Indisputable Variables. In his post, David says this:

I am nowhere near where I want to be, but the reality is I am far from where I started. There was a time when I had no options, no education, no career and had to decide what I wanted to do with myself. Looking back I wish I could talk to myself, and save myself so many headaches and heartaches but all of those have made me stronger and who I am today.

David, and all of us, have stood at these intersections. We can make the choice of which path we take; we just need to be aware of it.

I picked up my rucksack, and turned to the left, uphill. I chose to grow, as difficult as that may be…

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Duane France

Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.